In the wake of the mass shootings over the weekend in Texas and Ohio that left at least 31 dead, Democrats in the Pennsylvania General Assembly have called for a special session to tackle reforms to the state’s gun laws.
Five Democratic state representatives spoke at a news conference Tuesday in Harrisburg urging Gov. Tom Wolf to immediately call legislators back to the state Capitol and bring forward legislation they claim has been stuck in committees controlled by Republican majorities in both the House and Senate.
“I think now is the time to let the chips fall where they may,” state Rep. Kevin Boyle, D-Philadelphia, said when asked if gun control legislation could pass in the legislature.
Among the legislation Boyle and others want to see come to the floor for votes include bills that would ban assault rifles, require background checks on all gun purchases and mandate reporting for lost or stolen guns. Another proposal would allow for individuals, law enforcement and judges to seek temporary restrictions on gun access for people considered to be a risk to themselves or others.
Another Philadelphia Democrat, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, said the Legislature has missed numerous occasions to enact legislation, but that the window of opportunity remained open. He noted that Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine was interrupted by demonstrators who kept chanting “Do something!” in response to the incident early Sunday morning in Dayton that claimed nine lives and injured 27 more.
That followed an attack at a Walmart Saturday in El Paso, Texas, where at least 22 died and 26 more were injured.
“And I think the people of Pennsylvania are asking us to do something, and we're here ready and willing to get some stuff done,” Kenyatta said.
Tuesday’s news conference came a day after leaders of the PA Safe Caucus wrote to Wolf and requested a special session, saying state leaders have a “moral duty to address the crisis of gun violence.”
State Rep. Bob Freeman, D-Easton, who serves as the Democratic chair for the state House Local Government Committee said he’s hopeful a special session would allow for debate on what he called common sense measures to protect families and communities.
“By calling the special session, you throw down the gauntlet,” Freeman said. “The government will be saying, ‘Action needs to be taken on this matter.’ And if nothing comes out of that, that’s a terribly embarrassing thing for the legislative leaders to explain.”
Republicans hold a 110-93 edge in the House and a 28-22 edge in the Senate, so any measure would need at least some GOP support to make it to Wolf’s desk. On Tuesday, Democrats said some Republicans have joined as sponsors to bills on universal background checks and requiring lost and stolen guns are reported.
“If we actually have a vote, and Speaker (Mike) Turzai allows for there to be a vote pertaining to some of these gun safety issues, I do think you’ll see yes votes from Republican members,” he said. “Most specifically, from the Philadelphia suburbs.”